The international community’s duty to protect Syrian women

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Women are holding Syrian society together. [fpolat69/Shutterstock]

Women play a vital role in Syria, keeping schools, hospitals and communities running despite the bombing. They will be essential in rebuilding the country and an enduring peace, write the women of the Syrian HNC.

The Syrian HNC (High Negotiation Committee) is an assembly of opposition groups working for peace in Syria.

The UN estimates that over 150 children have been killed in Aleppo over the past two weeks. Each child had a mother. These women, and countless others, hold scars from a brutal war now in its sixth year. But for all the scars Syrian women bear, they are immeasurably resilient. Women are enablers, protectors, and the cornerstone of communities. It is only with women that Syria will find a successful political transition and a path to peace.

In Aleppo, Syrian women are ensuring the soul of the city lives on despite Assad’s bombs. Women are leading efforts to provide education, food and healthcare to Syria’s second largest city and across Syria. Together, women underpin Syrian society and are essential for democracy and rebuilding a post-conflict Syria.

As members of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiation Committee (HNC), we met last month with 50 women from some of the country’s most active civil society groups. This was just a snapshot of the leading role Syrian women are undertaking. We heard about the efforts of Syrian women on the ground to keep their local communities running despite the tremendous challenges they face. They articulated legitimate demands on how we can reach a political transition for Syria. The women made clear to us how they want – and need – to play a greater for a future Syria. It is our job to empower them. This is why we are pressing our international allies to ensure the equal participation and full involvement of Syrian women in all efforts to secure a sustainable peace as mandated by UNSCR 1325 (2000).

But for any political process – and women’s participation in that effort – we need to stop the greatest obstacle: the indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Even US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted as much last month to the UN Security Council. He called for the grounding of all Assad regime and Russian aircraft over Syria.

The horrendous crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime against innocent civilians have made prospects for Geneva talks and a political process impossible. While we, along with the women of Syria, discuss how we want to start rebuilding our country, our efforts are blocked because the Assad regime and its ally Russia are targeting and starving civilians in Aleppo and across Syria. The regime continues to refuse aid access in order to subjugate the population – at least one million Syrians are currently living under siege. The Assad regime is also causing demographic change in its bid to oversee the displacement of opposition fighters from areas over which it has regained control. This forced displacement of the population has the greatest adverse effects on the women and children left behind.

However, despite the daily horrors of life in Syria, our women compatriots are not losing hope. We see the resilience of Syrian women as they work to restore schools, hospitals, and communities. Even their intensive engagement with us in the HNC is proof that Syrians are not giving up on peace or on the role of women in the peace process. While Assad drops bombs on civilians in Aleppo and across all of Syria to destroy the future of our country, Syrians work tirelessly to rebuild it.

According to some media, the US administration is now considering airstrikes against Syrian military positions as retaliation for attacks on civilians in Aleppo, in the form of a so-called “no-bomb zone”. Similar arguments are being made at the UK parliament. The HNC and a vast array of Syrians from across civil society, human rights defenders and civilian activists, have argued in favour of a “no-bomb zone” as the only way to effectively protect civilians in Syria and we welcome the news that the international community is discussing it as a credible option.

But words are not enough. The international community must act now to ensure that civilians are protected and no longer targeted.

The international community – and in particular the European Union – must recognise and join these efforts. We are all in debt to the scores of innocent children who lost their lives or were victims of war crimes in Aleppo and across Syria. We owe their mothers, fathers, and communities our efforts to end the conflict and ensure that those responsible will be brought to justice. We know that the women of Syria are increasingly participating in this effort. It is time for the international community to empower and protects them in return.

This editorial is signed by Alise Mofrej, Bassma Kodmani, Suheir Atassi and Hind Kabawat.

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